With competition for premium passengers hotter than ever, airlines across the board are upping their game with newly designed cabins and imaginative amenities. Here, a look at what’s new in the sky
By Gabriel Leigh
In the highly competitive airline industry, a good premium cabin is the ultimate differentiator. Not only do business and first-class seats bring in significantly higher fares than economy class, they’re also key to the prominence of a brand in a crowded market. Since British Airways introduced the first flatbed business-class seats in 2000, the world’s airlines have been in an ongoing race to better each other’s premium offerings. That has meant new cabins being unveiled at an unprecedented rate, and a healthy amount of innovation as well. The past couple of years, in particular, have seen a number of new seat designs, bringing new levels of comfort and luxury to premium-class travel.
Business class tends to be the most fascinating cabin from a design perspective. By far the seating class with the most intense competition, the jury is still out as to what represents the perfect seat and layout combination to maximize passenger comfort (and command the associated high fares) while not sacrificing too much space (which hurts the bottom line). Seat manufacturers and airlines are working hard to get this just right as evidenced by the number of different designs out there.
As business-class seats have become more spacious, first class has had to keep up by offering even more comfort and privacy, lest the high net worth individuals be tempted to downgrade and save some cash. Meanwhile, premium economy, still a relatively new phenomenon on most airlines, is starting to become more widespread. On the airlines that have chosen to use it, there’s quite a bit of variation as to how much room they offer and whether the service is more “economy plus” or “business minus.”
All of which adds up to a dizzying array of seating styles, cabin layouts, and comfort levels. What follows is a roundup of the most notable new premium seats now being introduced to the skies.
Cathay Pacific raised the bar when it introduced its new business class last year, their layout was referred to as a “reverse herringbone,” in which solo seats on each side are angled outward toward the window, while paired seats in the middle of the cabin are pointed toward each other. This means not only does every passenger have direct aisle access, but there’s a nice view out the window for solo travelers, while those traveling in pairs can have the middle section to themselves. Here Cathay has sacrificed a number of seats to offer passengers more room. There’s ample storage and working space, the seat reclines into a very comfortable fully flat bed, and the cabin looks great. Cathay is using this configuration on most long-haul Boeing 777-300ERs and on a number of Airbus A330s, with more to come as the year progresses.
Cathay also started progressively introducing their premium-economy cabin on a handful of routes this year. Though by no means luxurious, it represents a respectable step up from economy class with more leg-room and wider seats, a more intimate cabin of no more than 34 seats, and extra amenities, such as noise-canceling headphones and hot towels.